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South Africa: Scramble for Talent as New Pay-TV Stations Prepare to Broadcast

The race to attract broadcasting talent has intensified with the imminent launch of new pay-TV channels, with some stations looking for foreigners to help fill the gaps in a small industry. The SABC's respected radio anchor, Jeremy Maggs, is to join the newly licensed e.Sat, which is e.tv's 24-hour news service scheduled to broadcast on DStv.

Maggs confirmed in early February that he would leave SAfm, where he is the lead anchor on its morning current affairs programme, AM Live, in March. "I have been at SAfm for 10 years. It is time to take a few more risks and move on to other things," Maggs said.

He would have hosted AM Live for only a year, after the controversial resignation of John Perlman, who left the programme under a cloud when he exposed the SABC's blacklisting of prominent commentators.

Maggs brought credibility and stability to the programme. His departure from the SABC is set to raise concerns again about its ability to retain experienced and independent journalists. It was accused by certain members of the African National Congress (ANC) of running President Thabo Mbeki's campaign for a third term as president of the party at its conference in December last year.

While Maggs called the SABC "a challenging place to work", he said there were no explosive issues behind his resignation. "I fervently believe in public broadcasting. There have been times when SAfM and the SABC have gotten it right (in ) covering important social issues that the mainstream media would not cover," he said.

E.Sat editor-in-chief Debra Patta confirmed that Maggs would be joining the newly licensed pay-TV broadcaster as a key anchor , adding that Talk Radio 702 presenter Redi Direko would join Maggs. Direko will not be leaving 702. " We will be announcing more key appointments soon," Patta said.

The scarcity of skills led Telkom Media to attend a UK conference last year with the intention of persuading South African expatriates to return home.

Industry commentators have said the increased competition in the TV market ahead of new pay-TV offerings being introduced have ramped up the cost of attracting top talent . "Now is a good time to be a journalist," Patta said.

Sources said that e.Sat was "wall to wall" with applications for people wanting to join it, the majority apparently from the SABC.

The SABC's national radio bulletins editor, Vusi Sithole, and radio bulletin producer and newsreader Ray White, are said to have handed in their resignations, while Telkom Media and e.Sat have apparently approached or made offers to most of the award-winning Special Assignment news team.

Sources at the SABC said its board had set aside R20m to retain key staff. SABC spokesman Kaiser Kganyago denied there was an "exodus" of SABC staff and that the SABC had felt the "pinch" from new pay-TV players. But he said there was a shortage of skills in the industry, and that the industry would need to work together to solve it.

(Business Day (Johannesburg), 8 February 2008)

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